I slept in this morning, waking at six to a thin blanket of snow in the yard, white buntings on the bird feeders and leafless branches of the dogwood tree. Gray clouds hung low in the sky, stinting the light into something spare but lovely. Snow – even a little – brings a stillness and silence. I rose into it reverent and grateful, stepping through the house the way a monk might walk the cloister at dawn.
The monk fantasy, of course, was a clue that things were likely to go awry. About five minutes into this medieval-Christian-with-a-dash-of-Thoreau fantasy, my wife woke up, followed by my son. The neighbor’s dog visited, prompting my own dog to have conniptions – not the quiet kind – at the door. So much for the monastery.
I handled it gracefully enough – after all, this is the life I both chose and choose – but I did feel a loss, a sense of holiness missed, as if Jesus had visited and then slipped away before I had a chance to kneel at his feet.
Conflict within you must imply that you believe the ego has the power to be victorious. Why else would you identify with it? (T-23.I.1:5-6)
It is only the ego that would argue snowy stillness is better than the Sunday morning bustle of home and family. My monastic fantasies are the ego’s replacement for the life in Christ that is given to me in every moment, if I will only accept it unconditionally.
It is natural to wonder what we are supposed to do in these moments when we see the ego’s handiwork and perceive the pain of separation that is its only offering. But the question of “how” or “what next” remains firmly in the ego’s grim province. Why? Because those questions bring time into the picture: they posit an improved future which only distracts us from the present, which is always perfect.
When I woke up this morning, I perceived the Gift that God continually offers and briefly accepted it. The ego crept in by whispering “let’s keep this moment of grace and holiness for ourselves.”
And I listened. I accepted the ego’s lie that specific external conditions – the light, the snow, the sky – were the cause of my joy. When others presented themselves, I resented their intrusion. It was all quite subtle. It’s not like I threw my coffee mug across the room. But I believed a loss had taken place. Why pretend otherwise?
In essence, I made an image of peace – the lovely snowy morning – and clung to it in place of the fluid present. When we memorialize something, we pay homage to the past. But God’s gift is formless and cannot be meaningfully translated into form. Nor can it be contained in segments of time.
God’s gift is joy because God is joy. God’s gift is peace because God is peace. Those gifts are given continually and unconditionally because God is given unconditionally and continually. Thus, when we experience joy and peace, we must be clear that the movement to condition it upon external causes is the ego’s effort to limit God. Limits of any kind – including the idea that limits are possible – obscure what is. They obscure God.
It is not a crime to think differently than God, or to believe that such thinking can yield some benefit. It happens to all of us. But it is painful and lonely to think that way. That is why we perceive – and are last beginning to heed – the dim interior call that suggests there is another way and wants to help us find and experience it.
Awareness and attention are curative because they are the Holy Spirit which is God’s answer to the separation (C-6.2:1). They remind us continually that nothing more is asked of us than simply to learn – to find out – what it means to let God be God.